Too often, webmasters either perform no keyword research, or do their research on an ad hoc basis. As a result, they miss out on many opportunities to drive more traffic to their sites. In this article, I’ll explain why planning is so essential and should be closely aligned to your business strategy.
Good planning and a systematic approach will allow you to get the best results from your keyword research. Don’t dive straight into a project! Take the time to think it through and understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve before you start work. People who think about keyword research before jumping in are much more likely to spot and exploit major opportunities.
Organizing your Keyword Research
Why do we need to conduct keyword research? Can’t you just publish useful content? Won’t people find it anyway?
If you simply guess at what people are looking for, you take the very real risk that you’ll be wrong. Why take that risk when keyword research can give you such tremendous insight into what people are really looking for?
Henry Ford once said, "If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view."
Of course, Ford wasn’t writing specifically about keyword research — but he could well have been. To perform keyword research properly you must put yourself into your customer’s shoes.
If you do your research properly, not only will you be able to optimize your existing web site content, but you’ll also be able to tap into an endless stream of ideas for new content that you know people will be interested in. You may even uncover valuable niche markets for your existing products as well as some clever ideas for new products.
The aim of keyword research is to help you make more money from the content you’ve got at the moment, and lay the foundations for creating even greater profits in the future.
So what’s the basic approach you should take for a keyword research project? Here’s how I approach the challenge of keyword research.
Step 1: Start with a Good List of Seed Keywords
Seed keywords are the words you use to start a keyword research project. In themselves, they’re not very useful, but the directions they take you in can produce a rich source of money-making keywords.
Suppose I’m researching keywords for an information site on family business. ‘Succession’ might be a promising seed keyword, because it leads me to ‘succession disputes,’ ‘conflict resolution,’ ‘mediation,’ and so on.
The greater the number of promising seed keywords you have at the start of a project, the more comprehensive your final results will be.
Jotting down notes will get you started, but it won’t give you anything near a full list of possibilities — you’ll need to do something to stimulate your creativity.
When I start a new project, my favourite method is to get myself out of the office and deliberately give myself some thinking time.
I’ll go to the nearest newsstand or magazine store and buy three or four magazines in the area that I’m researching. Then I’ll sit down in a coffee shop and read through the magazines looking for good articles. I want to understand the subject area and the important issues or ideas that are currently being discussed.
I’ll pick the best of the articles I’ve found and go through them in detail. I’ll keep a notebook by my side and jot down the main ideas and concepts that are covered in the articles, and list what I think might be important keywords.
From this exercise I’ll generate a list of at least 20 seed keywords. Now’s the time to go online and do some real keyword research.
Step 2: Find Related Keywords
We’re obviously very proud of the service we can offer webmasters at Wordtracker, and one of my favorite features is the fact that Wordtracker provides two main types of keywords: ‘related keywords’ and ‘long tail keywords.’
- Related keywords are words that are often used in a particular subject area. For example, related keywords for ‘back pain’ would include ‘sciatica’ and ‘spinal problems’; related keywords for ‘home business’ would include ‘weekend entrepreneur’ or ‘working from home’. (These examples come from Wordtracker’s Keyword Universe tool.)
- Long tail keywords for ‘back pain’ would be ‘back pain treatment,’ ‘lower back pain,’ and ‘exercise for back pain’; long tail keywords for ‘home business’ would include ‘home business opportunities,’ ‘how to set up a home business,’ or ‘home business support.’ (These examples come from Wordtracker’s Keyword Researcher tool.)
I’ll take those seed keywords that I collected from my magazines and look for ‘related keywords’ for each in turn. You may be tempted to delve into detail, but you should resist this temptation for now. Find as many related concepts as possible — you’re not looking for the first right answer, but for many right answers.
If I’m researching a web site on buying property overseas, I’ll not only be interested in keywords such as ‘homes abroad,’ ‘property abroad,’ and ‘international property’ but also ‘international mortgages,’ ‘ global real estate,’ ‘property rights,’ ‘buying off plan,’ ‘health insurance abroad,’ and ‘expatriates.’
Always look for niche opportunities. Keyword research is one of the most effective ways to identify niche markets that others have failed to recognize.
This process should give you hundreds of related keywords. You can now test their popularity — how often each word is searched for on average every day. These numbers, together with your own assessment of how important the keywords are for your business, allow you to prioritize your keyword lists.
Step 3: Map Out Your Web Content Structure
You can use the keywords to map out the content of your site. Group them into themes — for example, ‘legal pitfalls’ might be grouped with ‘property rights’ as part of a major section on the laws of buying and owning property overseas.
How you perform this grouping task is entirely up to you. You should aim to have groups that reflect your products and services and are targeted to specific target markets. Start with 6 to 10 themes, then build on this later.
Step 4: Find Long Tail Keywords
Now’s the time to get into detail. The keywords you’ve grouped into themes are the starting point for digging into the long tail. Take each of the keywords you’ve researched in turn and analyze how they’re used in longer search terms. For example, ‘property abroad’ is used in these longer search terms:
- property for sale abroad
- property abroad
- investment property abroad
- buying property abroad
- mortgages to buy property abroad
- mortgages second property abroad
- residential property investments abroad
- eco investment property abroad
- resale property abroad
Next, look at the daily search counts to get an idea of the relevant importance of each term. Using this technique, you can very quickly build up a matrix of hundreds, if not thousands, of keywords.
Step 5: Create Your Detailed Content Plan
Now start looking for specific content ideas. I’ll often go back to my original notes and follow this formula to create content ideas:
Hot issue + Popular keyword = Content Title
If, for example, you know that working with local estate agents and officials is a hot issue, you could combine this with the keyword ‘homes abroad’ to create the content title:
‘Legal pitfalls in buying a home abroad’
Don’t be afraid of highly competitive terms. Include them in your web site copy, even if you have no immediate chance of ranking well for them — you’re laying the foundations for the future.
Good keyword research helps map out a detailed content plan. This means that you won’t waste time on irrelevant content, but will focus on highly relevant content ideas that will bring the traffic you’re after.
Keyword Research Complete?
Now that you’ve established your focus, you’re ready to start creating your content. But your keyword research needs to be an ongoing process. Once you’ve published your pages, your need to monitor your performance, make adjustments accordingly, and then systematically expand the keywords that you rank well for. We’ll look at how to do that in future articles in this series.
Ken McGaffin is Chief Marketing Officer with Wordtracker, an online tool that helps webmasters identify keywords and phrases that are relevant to their business and most likely to be used as queries by search engine visitors. He writes regularly about link building and online public relations on McGaffin.com.